Category Archives: Strategic Outlook

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Corps Existentialism: Ensuring a Future for the Marines

After more than a decade of overwhelming success in combat operations ashore, the United States Marine Corps is mounting a very public return to its sea faring roots—and the timing could not be worse.  The defense budget is shrinking by billions of dollars each fiscal year, impacting everything from amphibious ship maintenance / readiness / modernization and interoperability to Marine acquisitions and end strength.  In the midst of all this fiscal turmoil, the Department of the Navy (DoN) is further handicapped by an absence of Department level strategic communications coordination evidenced by the distant narratives being communicated from the Blue and Green sides on amphibious operations. With America’s largest Global War on Terror land campaigns wrapping up and with it a shrinking appetite to maintain two land armies, the lack of a coherent, unified justification for the future employment of Marines aboard Navy shipping existentially threatens the Marine Corps. Below are eight major items that the DoN must internally reconcile in this budget cycle to further guarantee future relevancy of the US Marine Corps:

1.       DOCTRINE: Reconsider the Marines new Capstone Document, Expeditionary Force 21 (EF-21).

“EF-21 will not change what Marines do, but how they do it[1].”  To this I would add “and when they will do it, and why they will do it.”  EF-21 represents a unilateral, fundamental paradigm shift in Joint Forcible Entry Operations (JFEO) doctrine that disconnects with existing concepts such as the Joint Operational Access Concept and the Army – Marine Corps Access Concept.  EF-21 asserts the Marine Corps’ preeminence in conceiving Amphibious Doctrine and announces dramatic changes in USN shipping standoff ranges during landing operations (an almost unfathomable 65 nautical miles) as well as a novel sequencing of operations—landing Marines prior to cyber, naval, or air preparation of the battle space in order to conduct USMC counter anti-access and counter area-denial operations.  The Marines have blazed a new doctrinal path, replete with unique assumptions on surface ship missile defense capabilities (underestimated) and surface connector capabilities (overestimated). With EF-21 they have created a schism that—left unreconciled —will call into question Naval / Joint doctrine and acquisitions to support amphibious entry operations.

2.       ORGANIZATION: Re-evaluate the ARG MEU and MAGTF

For well over a decade, the Amphibious Ready Group / Marine Expeditionary Units (ARG MEU) have been operating outside of their normal 3 ship formations. “Split Force Operations” and “Distributed Operations”[2] have been directed by Geographic Combatant Commanders, thereby breaking up the traditional ARG MEU formations in order to distribute the ships and personnel where operationally required.  While the ARG MEU has been historically conceived as an amphibious, expeditionary rapid reaction combined arms force capable of self-sustainment, the proliferation of lesser contingency operations has resulted in the placing of greater preeminence on the pieces parts vs. the whole.  This trend of separating not only ARG-MEUs but also and their Marine Corps combined arms Marine Air Ground Task Forces (MAGTF) will likely only increase in the future (especially with game changing acquisitions like the 5th Generation F-35B Lightning II coming to the Fleet in FY-17).  The cross domain synergy envisioned in the JOAC—“…the complementary vs additive employment of capabilities which enhances the capabilities and compensates for the vulnerabilities of others”—will drive independent elements of the MAGTF further into the Joint arena, and may precede a paradigm shift fundamentally altering the current ARG MEU and MAGTFconstructs.  Getting in front of that bow wave will be essential to maintaining both the MAGTF’s integrity, its capability set and its Joint Force relevency in both fully integrated and split/disaggregated instantiations throughout the range of military operations.

3.       TRAINING: Refine the agility instead of preparing for Tarawa II

Exercise BOLD ALLIGATOR is as much about domestic and international strategic communications as it is a Marine Expeditionary Brigade level exercise.  The Navy – Marine Corps team has used the exercise to host many distinguished visitors (DVs) to demonstrate the capability of amphibious forces to conduct forcible entry operations even after a decade spent waging two land wars and a significant curtailment of practiced amphibious landings on both coasts.  MEB level landings haven’t been employed operationally since the Gulf War—and in that case it was a pump fake at Ash Shuaybah.  What the Navy-Marine Corps Team has done plenty of is split/disaggregated operations, and despite their prevalence over the last decade, there has not been enough concept refinement and exercises to perfect the planning, combat cargo loading, disaggregating and (most importantly) re-aggregating of the force in order to conduct larger scale operations.  Real emphasis on these modern deployment dynamics have to become a priority so that Navy-Marine Corps amphibious forces can maintain their relevance as a scalable, agile force capable of deploying to conduct both distributed, lesser contingency operations and focused, combined arms major combat operations.

 

4.       MATERIEL: Preserve the Assault Echelon by ensuring that the ACV does not become a “Ship to Objective Commuter[3]”

With the current Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) fleet nearing 50 years of age, the Marines are in desperate need of a replacement.  The Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle—previously the heir apparent to the AAV—was cancelled in 2011 after $3 Billion was spent and $15 Billion more required.  The successor to the EFV, the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV), is reported to lack an amphibious capability (it will not swim unlike its predecessors) and will instead rely on US Navy surface connectors (Landing Craft Air Cushion [hoovercraft] and Landing Craft Utility [regular displacement craft]) to get ashore. As stated by LtCol Howard F. Hall in the Marine Corps Gazette, “… regardless of its land capabilities, the [non amphibious ACV] lack of personnel carrying capacity, reliance on connectors, and delayed transition from those connectors once ashore exacerbate operational risks.” Those risks include surrendering the assault echelon writ large: without amphibious capability, the connectors—which are very vulnerable to small arms, coastal artillery / mortars—would be stuck depositing ACVs instead of follow on logistics and supplies.  Once ashore, the ocean becomes a brick wall to Marines embarked in ACVs instead of maneuver space.  EF-21 envisions a 65 nautical mile standoff between Marines on the beach and Sailors on the amphibs.  If that distance is to be honored, an “amphibious combat vehicle” that lives up to its name must be fielded.

5.       LEADERSHIP: Challenge convention, support the Joint Force and the Corps will continue to thrive

The Marines are famous for their institutional paranoia on both Navy support and Army efforts to subsume them.  This paranoia, however, is detrimental to effecting needed change, and often causes a reflexive opposition to anything which threatens existing Marine Corps doctrine—seen as the Corps’ existential guarantor.  The Corps is not without their own innovators, however.  Earl “Pete” Hancock Ellis, as a Major in the Marines, conceived and developed the innovative Operations Plan 712—the basic strategy for the United States in the Pacific that led to the Corps’ modern day monopoly on Amphibious Assault (and in no small part its survival through the twentieth century). If not for Ellis’ own benefactor, General LeJeune, OPLAN 712 may never have received the vetting that drove it to become foundational to the Pacific Campaign.  This same kind of innovation and support, and not just doubling-down of core competencies in more difficult settings, must take place with Marine leadership going forward to ensure that the Corps is positioned strategically to act when the Joint Force requires.

6.       PERSONNEL: Bring back Marines assigned to Navy ships at the platoon level to augment Navy VBSS, security, small arms, ATFP capabilities

The Marines had an illustrious 223 year run on Navy capital ships, which ended in January 1998 as the defense department drew down its end strength as part of the Clinton era peace dividend.  Today, as the Corps is set to shrink once again post Afghanistan and Iraq, there is ironically a pressing need for Marines to return to Navy ships.  Anti-terrorism / Force Protection (ATFP) requirements—sentries, crew served weapons and quick reaction forces—have been on a steady rise since the 2000 USS Cole suicide bombing in Yemen.  These watch stations strain Navy crews and are manned by personnel whose primary responsibility is not the handling of small arms.  Likewise, Navy Visit Board, Search and Seizure teams—while more proficiently trained than their ATFP counterparts—are principally manned and trained for inspection and self-defense; they do not have an assault / counter-assault capability and therefore usually rely on heavily tasked special operations forces (SOF) to conduct opposed boardings.  Returning Marines to Navy ships will bring additional ATFP and VBSS capabilities to the Fleet while insulating the Marine Corps from additional manpower cuts.

7.       FACILITIES: Prepare special units to embark non-traditional shipping (and keep them light)

Commandant of the Marine Corps General James Amos testified in front of Congress on 01 October on his initiative to form a Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force (SP MAGTF) in Kuwait to provide regional Quick Reaction Force (QRF) capability.  Retired Captain Jerry Hendrix of the Center for a New American Security endorsed the innovation in the Wall Street Journal.

“Looking at the Marines as a crisis response force is good in the sense the Corps knows it must develop an alternative mission and a new future.” [4]

However, Amos believes that his efforts are being hamstrung by the lack of amphibious shipping.

“In a perfect world we would rather have these teams sea-based, but we don’t have enough ships.”[5]

Not every contingency warrants a warship.  For lesser contingency operations—everything from embassy reinforcement, snatch-and-grabs to theater security cooperation—the Navy is looking towards employing ships from its “Moneyball Fleet”.  Joint High Speed Vessels, Afloat Forward Staging Bases, Dry Cargo Logistics Ships and Littoral Combat Ships are considerably cheaper to build and operate than their USS cousins, boast considerable cargo space, have sufficient flight deck / boat deck facilities while operating with a considerably smaller “signature.”  In order to ensure that these vessels do not become the exclusive domain of lighter / sexier Special Operations Forces (SOF), Marines must build tailored, scalable packages that can rapidly deploy, integrate, conduct operations and debark as cheaply and as expeditiously as possible.  Throwing down similar communications integration, berthing, and command and control requirements on non-traditional shipping as amphibious shipping is a surefire way to get priced out and left on the pier.

8.       POLICY: A greater role for the Secretary of the Navy in ensuring unity of effort / purpose within DoN DOTMLPF

At the end of the day, Title 10 authority to man, equip and train the members of the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps is invested in the Secretary of the Navy, the Honorable Ray Mabus.  The department’s strategic vision must be clearly defined and communicated at the Secretariat level.  There is no room for competing narratives, especially in an era of ever shrinking fiscal resources and ever expanding operational requirements.  It must become the policy of the Department of the Navy that all Navy / Marine Corps Doctrine, Organization, Training, Materiel, Leadership, Personnel, Facilities conform to the department’s strategic vision and serve in promoting its unity of purpose.  Anything less introduces risk and presents an existential threat to the Marine Corps.

 

Nicolas di Leonardo is a member of the Expeditionary Warfare Division on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations and a student at the US Naval War College.  The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Expeditionary Warfare Division or the Naval War College.

[1] Amos, General James E. et al.  “EF-21,” Headquarters Marine Corps, 04 March 2015, p.5
[2] Disaggregated Operations are defined in EF-21 as “…requiring elements of the ARG/MEU to function separately and independently, regardless of time and distance, with elements under a command relationship that changes/limits the ARG/MEU commanders’ control of their forces.  Distributed Operations / Split Force Operations are defined as “…requiring elements of the ARG/MEU  to function separately for various durations and various distances with the ARG and MEU commanders retaining control of their forces under the Geographic Combatant Commander.”

[3] Hall, LtCol Howard F.  “Ship to Objective Commuters: The Continuing Search for Amphibious Vehicle Capability.”  The Marine Corps Gazette, August 2014
[4] Barnes, Julian E.  “Marines Deploy New Quick Reaction Force in Kuwait.”  The Wall Street Journal, 02 October 2014.
[5] Barnes, Julian E.  “Marines Deploy New Quick Reaction Force in Kuwait.”  The Wall Street Journal, 02 October 2014.

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The Father of the Modern Chinese Navy—Liu Huaqing

This is the final piece in our Forgotten Naval Strategists series.

liu2Liu Huaqing is arguably one of China’s most famous naval officers. Often referred to as the “father of the modern Chinese Navy” and “China’s Mahan,” Liu served as commander of China’s Navy, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy) from 1982 to 1987, a period which saw a sea change in China’s naval strategy as it moved away from coastal operations. However, Liu’s legacy is much more complex, given that he was actually more of a ground forces officer assigned to the navy, rather than a life-long naval officer. Rather than being the likely originator of China’s post 1980s naval strategy, he should be better remembered as one of China’s most ardent supporters of a stronger Chinese naval power.

Background

According to Liu’s autobiography, he was born on 20 October 1916, in eastern Hubei Province, China. He was one of six children, having three brothers and two sisters. Liu joined the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1929, at the young age of 13. However, three years later he was kicked out of the CCP after being accused of being a “counterrevolutionary.” Liu was only allowed to rejoin the Party in 1935, during his participation in the Long March (1934-36).[1] Despite this early set back, Liu reached the highest ranks of the CCP, serving as a member of China’s elite ruling body, the Politburo Standing Committee, from 1992 to 1997. He died on 16 January 2011, at the age of 94.

In addition to rising through the ranks of the CCP, Liu was a successful military officer. He joined the communist military forces (not yet called the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA) in 1930, at the age of 14.[2] He subsequently fought against both the Chinese Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek and the Japanese military during World War II. Towards the end of his military career, in 1988, he was promoted to the rank of general, and ultimately served as vice chairman of the CCP’s supreme military body, the Central Military Commission (CMC), from 1992 to 1997.

Naval career

Despite his other accomplishments, Liu is best known as modern China’s most famous naval officer. However, despite ultimately becoming PLA Navy commander, Liu was not a typical naval officer. Instead, he’s probably better described as a PLA ground forces officer with naval characteristics, to borrow from a Chinese saying. The majority of Liu’s military career was actually in the army, the (still) dominant service of the PLA—that he is more accurately referred to as “general” rather than “admiral” bears further testament to this fact. Furthermore, Liu’s first encounter with the PLA Navy wasn’t until he was 36 years old (1952), when he was appointed deputy political commissar of the Dalian Naval Academy.[3]

Once part of the PLA Navy, however, Liu enjoyed a rapid rise through its ranks. In 1958, after completing almost four years of study at the Soviet Union’s Voroshilov Naval Academy (today’s N.G. Kuznetsov Naval Academy), Liu became deputy commander, and subsequently commander, of China’s Lushun Naval Base, near the port city of Dalian.[4] In August 1960, he became deputy commander of the newly established North Sea Fleet in Qingdao.[5] A year later, he was appointed director of China’s Seventh Research Academy (Warship Research Academy), a newly founded institute that focused on “research and development of ships, weapon systems, equipment, and assimilation of imported technologies.”[6]

Liu’s appointment to the Seventh Research Academy was an inflection point, and for the next almost two decades, Liu was heavily involved in the research and development of China’s defense industries, particularly its ship building industry. In August 1966, he became deputy director of the National Defense Science and Technology Committee, which he held until 1969.[7] Liu then returned to the PLA Navy to direct its shipbuilding industry, and in 1970 he became the deputy chief of staff of the navy, responsible for naval weapons and platform development. Finally, in 1982, Liu was appointed commander of the PLA Navy, a position he held until 1987.

China’s “Offshore Defense” naval strategy

One of Liu’s key accomplishments during his tenure as commander was to oversee a major shift in the PLA Navy’s strategy in the mid 1980s. Until this point, the PLA Navy followed what it called the “Coastal Defense” (jin’an fangyu) strategy, which reflected Beijing’s belief that the primary role of the PLA Navy was to support the ground forces to defend against a Soviet land invasion. According to the PLA’s official encyclopedia, China’s “Coastal Defense” strategy was premised upon three parallel tracks. First, conducting maritime guerrilla operations using small naval and naval aviation formations to attack and harass dispersed and isolated enemy forces. Second, conducting rapid naval sorties to attack the enemy’s sea lanes and coastal targets within China’s immediate periphery. Third, carrying out small coastal naval operations under cover of ground artillery and land-based aircraft.

In 1986, the PLA Navy formally shifted its strategy from “Coastal Defense” to “Offshore Defense” (jinhai fangyu).[8] Unlike its predecessor, this strategy called on the PLA Navy to conduct independent naval actions further out from China’s coasts, although not yet true blue water operations. According to Liu’s autobiography, the focus of the “Offshore Defense” strategy was to defend China’s maritime interests within China’s claimed maritime territories. Liu fully recognized that the PLA Navy was unable to meet the requirements of this strategy when first articulated. In order to rectify this, the PLA Navy needed to develop four capabilities:

  • The ability to seize limited sea control in certain areas for a certain period of time
  • The ability to effectively defend China’s sea lanes
  • The ability to fight outside of China’s claimed maritime areas
  • The ability to implement a credible nuclear deterrent.[9]

Reflecting these requirements, the “Offshore Defense” strategy has both a temporal and geographic component to it. As Bernard D. Cole notes, the PLA Navy’s capability to fulfill the requirements of the “Offshore Defense” strategy were to develop along three phases:

  • Phase 1: to be achieved by 2000, during which time the PLA Navy needed to be able to exert control over the maritime territory within the First Island China, namely the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and South China Sea (see map)—a goal that Cole argues China has yet to fully achieve.
  • Phase 2: to be achieved by 2020, when the navy’s control was to extend out to the Second Island Chain.
  • Phase 3: to be achieved by 2050, by which time the PLA Navy was to evolve into a true global navy.[10]

chain

The shift in the PLA’s naval strategy reflected an earlier adjustment in Beijing’s assessment of its international situation. In the late spring of 1985, China, then under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, reassessed its strategic outlook. According to this assessment, China was no longer under the imminent threat of war, envisioned as a major ground invasion by Soviet forces to the north. Instead, due to a relative parity between the Soviet Union and the United States, China could enjoy a relatively peaceful environment for the foreseeable future.[11] This allowed Beijing to take the PLA off a constant pre-war posture and focus more on modernizing and downsizing the military in light of the new requirements to be able to fight a smaller, more technical type of war (referred to as “local war” (jubu zhanzheng) in PLA parlance).

The PLA Navy’s increased focus on China’s maritime domain also followed Beijing’s gradual recognition of the importance of the sea starting in the 1970s. As this author has written elsewhere, in the 1970s, China “began to recognize the potential economic value of controlling the maritime areas”—a region it had more or less ignored until then.[12] In particular, Beijing eyed the potential for hydrocarbons and minerals in the seabed, which, if exploited, could be used to benefit China’s economic development. The growing importance of fisheries to China’s economy was also noted. As was the new-found importance of China’s sea lanes, upon which China’s fledgling export economy increasingly depended.

Despite being credited with developing the PLA Navy’s “Offshore Defense” strategy, it is unlikely that Liu was the actual originator of the strategy. His career path and previous military experiences are not commensurate with those of a typical naval strategist. However, that is not to say that Liu didn’t play an influential role in the strategy’s formation. On the contrary, his position as naval commander during this period provided him with the necessary influence to see the strategy adopted in the first place. Furthermore, as CMC vice chairman, Liu would have been in a position to ensure that the PLA Navy developed the capabilities it needed to carry out the “Offshore Defense” strategy. That Liu was allegedly personal friends with Deng Xiaoping probably also helped strengthen Liu’s policy influence.[13] In this way, rather than “China’s Mahan,” it might be more accurate to refer to Liu as “China’s Theodore Roosevelt,” at least as far as naval development is concerned.

Conclusion

So what can we derive from this quick review of Liu Huaqing’s influence on the PLA Navy? This article makes four points:

  • First, the importance of having the naval capability to defend a state’s maritime interests. As China’s maritime interests expanded, Liu (and his fellow naval travelers) recognized the need for a naval force capable of safeguarding those interests. This may appear to be a truism, but it is worth repeating.
  • Second, the importance of syncing naval strategy (and subsequent development and procurement requirements) with overall national objectives. The PLA Navy’s switch to the “Offshore Defense” strategy ensured that the naval component of the PLA would align closely with the PLA’s newly established requirements for war fighting. Failure to ensure that the naval and other military services coordinate their respective strategies will only reduce efficiency and waste resources.
  • Third, the importance of developing naval capabilities based upon a strategy, and not vice versa. When the PLA Navy under Liu adopted the “Offshore Defense” strategy, it was fully understood that the navy was incapable of carrying out the new strategy—something China subsequently set about to change. At the end of the day, strategy is still the combination of ends, ways, and means—with ends holding pride of place.
  • Fourth, the importance of an influential lobbying force on behalf of a strong naval capability. The improved capabilities of the PLA Navy over the past two decades are arguably in part the direct result of Liu’s strong influence—especially in the 1990s when he was CMC vice chairman. Without his direct support for China’s naval development, it is unlikely that the PLA Navy would be where it is today.

Daniel Hartnett is a research scientist with The CNA Corporation, where he researches China’s military and security affairs. The views expressed here are his own. He can be followed at @dmhartnett.

[1] Liu Huaqing, Liu Huaqing Huiyilu [Memoirs of Liu Huaqing], (Beijing: PLA Publishing House, 2004), pp. 1-6.

[2] Liu, p. 7.

[3] Liu, p. 253.

[4] Liu, pp. 265-274.

[5] Liu, p. 282.

[6] Sandeep Dewan, China’s Maritime Ambitions and the PLA Navy (New Delhi, India: Vij Books, 2013), p. 18.

[7] Liu, p. 307.

[8] Some Westerners have translated this term as “near seas defense.” This article sticks with conventional usage, however.

[9] Liu, p. 438.

[10] Bernard D. Cole, The Great Wall at Sea: China’s Navy in the Twenty-First Century, 2nd edition, (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2010), p. 176.

[11] Yao Yunzhu, “The Evolution of Military Doctrine of the Chinese PLA from 1985 to 1995,” The Korean Journal of Defense Analysis 7:2 (1995): 57-62.

[12] Daniel M. Hartnett, “China’s Evolving Interests and Activities in the East China Sea,” in Michael A. McDevitt et al., The Long Littoral Project: East China and Yellow Seas—A Maritime Perspective on Indo-Pacific Security (Alexandria, VA: CNA, September 2012), pp. 83-86, http://www.cna.org/sites/default/files/research/IOP-2012-U-002207-Final.pdf.

[13] Edward Wong, “Liu Huaqing Dies at 94; Oversaw Modernization of China’s Navy,” New York Times, 16 January 2011.

china-military-rising

Military Strategy for a Twitter War

This article was written for our Strategic Communications Week.

It’s been clear for years now that Twitter, and social media writ large, have become battlespaces, where success is measured one retweet at a time. In 2012, ISAF and the Taliban went after each other in a tit-for-tat that sparked headlines like “NATO, Taliban take war to Twitter.”

Or take the example of the current conflict in Iraq, and ISIS’s (or ISIL’s) sophisticated recruiting campaign that The Guardian dubbed “Jihadi Cool.”

While it’s difficult to pinpoint the number of fighters ISIS has recruited via social media, the mass reach of its message is undeniable. The gruesome executions of James Foley and Steven Sotloff first appeared on social media sites, including Twitter and YouTube, and became headline news in a matter of hours.

The U.S. has put its weight behind a social media offensive of its own, and it’s important to note that both sides are taking the social media front seriously. ISIS employs advanced tools, like an app called “Dawn” that autotweets pro-ISIS messages from users that download it, and effective techniques, like hashtagging key phrases, to centralize the group’s message. Both aspects are weapons in the war for influence, and the most influential organizations should be taking notes.

Unfriended: The Challenges of Military Social Media Strategy

Military action and information operations have gone hand in hand since the dawn of warfare. Given the ubiquity of social media, taking IO to the social battlespace seems logical and necessary, but several issues make that leap a tricky act.

First is the “P word” – Propaganda, which gets thrown around every time the military forays into the world of mass messaging. Take the example of DARPA’s study of social networks. Since its start in 2011, the dryly named Social Media in Strategic Communications (SMISC) program has been scrutinized by the media as the groundwork for a social media propaganda machine. Even under the most noble pretenses- protecting troops in the field by studying social media cues, the negative connotations of government snooping on social networks, especially in a post-Snowden era, are good enough reasons for some organizations to limit their involvement with social media.

After Facebook’s psychological experiments on users surfaced in July 2014, The Guardian was quick to draw connections between Facebook’s widely disparaged study and DARPA’s SMISC. The smart defense media planner should take these comparisons into context, or otherwise risk losing valuable messaging opportunities.

A second challenge to military social media strategy is one that not all militaries face. If you’re part of the Israeli Defense Force, you have no problems tweeting the following:

Now if you’re tweeting on behalf of the U.S. military, you just can’t do this. Whereas the IDF has defined itself as a do-anything-to-win organization, the U.S. military places a great deal of effort into avoiding the perception as a killing force. Any media strategy must draw from the organization’s values, and for the U.S. military that means centering its tweets around the values of professionalism, leadership, and technical know-how.

Built to Share = Wider Influence

So amidst the perils of doing social media wrong, who’s doing it right? The first lesson comes from none other than the IDF, which crafts media products that are built for sharing. Their graphics and videos are visually engaging, easily understood, and as a result, perfect for passing on to Twitter followers, Facebook friends, and Youtube subscribers.

The idea that social media products should be shareable isn’t exactly a revelation in strategic communications, but too often, organizations fail to execute on the concept. Take PACOM’s Twitter feed (@PACOM), for example, which is so littered with acronyms and military jargon that it takes a professional military education to understand it. More jargon means a disengaged audience, which in turn means fewer shares and limited distribution.

Promoters, Millions of Them

The second lesson comes from ISIS, which relies on a network of outsiders to promote its material. Instead of a single source as the monolithic voice of the organization, multiple authors carry the water for ISIS. This distributed model lends the appearance of authenticity. It also creates a huge problem for the people attempting to control the spread of ISIS’s messages. Blocking offending users as they pop up becomes a challenge, and squashing violent statements on Twitter brings up meaty questions regarding free speech that are yet to be answered.

While militaries are built on authorities, and their communications strategies on official statements and messaging, the truth of the matter is that in social media, the official line is only the beginning of a discussion. Military topics draw crowds of commentators, and more than ever, official posts should be considered no more  than starting references for all of the conversations to follow.

The Serious Business of Social

A February 2014 Reuters study found that 57% of Facebook users and 50% of Twitter users had discovered, shared, or discussed a news story on the sites in the previous week. Internationally, the number of users who get their news (and arguably, their opinions) from social media will continue to increase, as will the opportunities for the most responsive organizations to communicate their messages in that domain.

Gaining the upper hand in social media requires interest and resources, but the alternative is being left out of the discussion. In strategic terms, that’s handing the initiative to your enemy.

cornell-university-82344_1280

The Future of Maritime Security Studies

As part of the Fourth Global International Studies Conference held in Frankfurt (Germany) 6-9 August 2014, a series of panels was organized on Maritime Securityscapes. One of the events was a roundtable on the future of the emerging, informal subdiscipline “Maritime Security Studies”, a rapidly growing field of analysis and research. The participants were asked to provide their comments along four broad questions. The following is one participant’s input to provide food for thought and a better understanding of maritime security as an academic field of interest and study. 

WISC Header

Frankfurt, site of the 4th WISC Global International Studies Conference (source: wikipedia).
Frankfurt, site of the 4th WISC Global International Studies Conference (source: wikipedia).

What are the most pressing and important questions that Maritime Security Studies (MSS) need to answer?

There are four immediate aspects to this, two of which are more inward-looking and two of which are more outward-directed. First, students of maritime security must better utilize the momentum of conditions that are in favor of the thrust of the field (e.g., the littoralization of security, the maritime [and indeed naval] dimensions of climate change, the hypothesis of the increasing utility of naval forces in future conflict scenarios, the recent publication of a cross-sectoral European Maritime Security Strategy, etc.). Second, maritime security scholars must consider, and learn to mitigate, condisations that are seemingly at odds with the thrust of the field (e.g., current land-centric conflicts, continental geopolitical and strategic thinking in policy-making circles, etc.).

Third, there must be a consistent evaluation of the contemporary relevance of maritime security, especially in light of what will come after “anti-piracy”. The naval operations off the Horn of Africa have locked the theme of security at and from the sea in the minds of many policy-makers and analysts to the degree that maritime security is often seen as exclusively about counter-piracy. Naturally, this self-imposed limitation is neither desirable nor practical. Here, it is especially the strategic-minded researchers that have an obligation to make decision-makers aware of the broad security dimensions of the maritime sphere. While they cannot prevent the career of certain terms, they should at least attempt to manage it properly. Fourth, maritime security students must consider how policy-makers can be convinced that investments in maritime security capabilities and capacities at home and aboard is beneficial. This relates to the challenge of doing critical and pragmatic studies: traditional security studies are increasingly dominated and even overpowered by constructivist approaches. 

Piracy areas worldwide.
Piracy areas worldwide.

What issues should be prioritized? What are the top priorities?

As with many fields of study, the top three priorities are funding, funding, and funding. Beyond stating this obvious desire, there appears to be the need to sharpen arguments and understanding of the subject matter “Maritime Security”. For example, in Germany, “maritime security” (“maritime Sicherheit”) has become an all-encompassing term, meaing all kinds of things to all kinds of people. From a naval perspective, “maritime security” usually means just one set of missions among many others (for the U.S. Navy as laid out in the most recent U.S. Navy strategy “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower” from 2007; for the German Navy by default, i.e. the operational experience in counter-terrorism and anti-piracy operations since 2002/2008).

Disciples of the emerging field of study should also not forget to look at the field from a commercial and naval perspective. The defense industry, after all, is increasingly looking at littoral security and the emerging maritime safety and security missions, fishery surveillance, counter-piracy, drug interdiction, environmental protection, humanitarian aid, and SAR. Commercial shipping companies are increasingly looking at security in the littoral areas, the ports, and the choke point regions. This offers critical and pragmatic scholars an excellent starting point to link their academic work and insight with influence on actual events and developments.

Scholars should also consider to revive and revitalize the concepts of seapower/sea power in their institutional, function, and geographic dimensions (as British naval strategy dean Geoff Till reminded us once, sea power is something that certain states, or seapowers, have). In addition, it behooves to freshen up on the three uses of the sea for navies (developed by Ken Booth in 1977 and Eric Grove in 1990): diplomatic, constabulary, and military.

Boundaries are a necessary evil.
Boundaries are a necessary evil, but they help to frame our analytical approaches. 

What are the convergences between academic and policy needs in maritime security? Are there shared gaps and how could these be addressed?

The effects of sea power and the policies that make and shape it must ultimately be felt ashore. The same goes for maritime security studies; there are inherent limits to bemoaning “sea blindness” again and again. Policy and maritime security studies both need a better understanding and appreciation of the value and virtue of naval power, and the opportunities of naval forces (presence, flexibility, versatiltiy, modularity, speed, crisis response, etc.). To that end, Maritime Security Studies disciples must learn to embrace navies (even if it means learning some dreaded military lingo and going to acronym hell and back). Navies, in turn, should learn to reach out to the academia and ask hard questions and demand sustainable answers and solutions. Whereas many navies are more about operations than about strategy, and policy-makers often confront a whole host of demands and pressures that keep them from thinking (and acting) strategically, the ultimate goal must be a closer linkage between naval officers, policy-makers, and maritime security students. Those in every field that reach out to the other two players must be identified, and the relationship could even be deepend by way of reserve duty in a navy for civilians and academic fellowships for naval officers).

The secret fantasy of the Maritime Security Studies analyst.
The secret fantasy of the Maritime Security Studies analyst.

How can the new maritime security studies be strengthened? What institutions will we need to undertake research collaboratively?

From a German perspective, there isn’t a single definitive center of gravity for maritime security (especially strategic) intellecutal thought, although there are a number of institutions that could collaboratively engage in maritime security studies (such as the Future Ocean cluster in Kiel, the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy in Hamburg, and the University of the German Armed Forces).  Maritime Security Studies can only be strengthened in a comprehensive manner. Geramns love the comprehensive approach but too often quickly turn a blind eye toward the indispensable military component of that approach. This requires a mapping of institutions and actors who are into the subject. The Institute for Security Policy in Kiel, with its demonstrated experience in third-party research projects and maritime security and naval strategy expertise (one PhD completed in 2009, one to be completed this year, three more due between 2015 and 2018) would be another natural player. Last, but certainly not least, the Center for International Maritime Security itself could play a role.

Analyze this!
Analyze this!

What are plausible next steps for Maritime Security Studies?

There should be a drive for greater institutionalization of the field through dedicated conferences, journals, university chairs, summer schools (one such event was recently organized in Greece), M.A. and PhD courses, etc. There could be a biennial maritime security studies conference – not unlike the McMullen Naval History Symposium in Annapolis, MD – that brings together experts and students from different fields (e.g., naval strategy, recent naval history, etc.). The subject at hand is interesting and exciting enough to explore more dimensions and collaboratively engage in visits on ships, war games and simulations, etc.). In the end, the goal must be to move from maritime case studies such as the dominating anti-piracy operations to the larger trends.

Sebastian Bruns is a Research Fellow at the University of Kiel’s Institute for Political Science/Institute for Security Policy. He holds an M.A. in North American Studies (U of Bonn 2007). The views he presented in Frankfurt and here are his own.

The source of Carthaginian power.

Lessons from History: Carthage & Transport Supremacy

The role of the United States in contingency operations is changing. In all of the large-scale international interventions of the past few years, namely Libya, Mali, and the Central African Republic, the United States’ contributions consisted primarily of transport capacity in both the seas and the skies to bring foreign ground forces to the conflict. This trend appears unprecedented for a global power to pursue its interests but, as the saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun. The ancient maritime power of Carthage utilized the same strategy effectively in the fourth century B.C

For those who are unfamiliar, Carthage was a preeminent maritime power for hundreds of years in the Mediterranean. Pre-saging Alfred Thayer Mahan and 19th century European colonial powers, Carthage embraced an empire not built by massive land holdings but by a disparate collection of trading spheres, ranging from Spain to Sicily, connected by the era’s most powerful navy. There were very few powers that could challenge them on the open seas, making the Western Mediterranean a Carthaginian lake by which it could generate wealth.

Most people know the Carthaginians as the enemies of Rome in the era of Hannibal but that was not always the case. Up until their first dramatic clash in the thirdcentury B.C., the Romans and Carthaginians were allies were allies of convenience. The Carthaginians faced consistent incursions from Numidians in North Africa and colonial wars with the Greeks in Sicily while the Romans had to contend with Greek colonies and restive Samnites to their south. This culminated in the early fourth century B.C. when the Carthaginians used their navy to transport Roman legions to the south to fight their common Greek enemies. Carthage did not have to sacrifice any men to achieve their foreign policy objectives and the Romans, without naval lift, would have spent a much longer time marching their army south through dangerous territory. The Carthaginians were thus able to find manpower to handle operations they could not undertake and the Romans gained rapid mobility. Both sides profited from the arrangement.
  
The United States is in a similar position in the modern as Carthage was in the ancient world. The United States has unmatched transport capacity in both the maritime and air domains, evidenced in all possible measures: numbers of sea/air transport vehicles, total cargo capacity, and experience in deployment logistics. Many other nations have tactical transports but very few others have either the numbers of strategic-level transports or the financial resources necessary to support long deployments. This situation gives the United States a unique position to influence global deployment of forces; it offers a quasi-veto to undesirable deployments and a force-multiplier for operations that it wants to see conducted.
 
While the United States has unmatched transport capacity, there are a host of reasons why the United States cannot project its power simultaneously to tackle every global crisis: ongoing operations in Afghanistan, a lack of popular support for committing troops overseas, and tightening budgets restrict the United States. Carthage had similar limitations, due primarily to budgets and the mercenary make-up of their armed forces, which they circumvented in their wars against the Greeks by leveraging Roman manpower. The United States is already doing the same for France in Mali and the United Nations in the Central African Republic.
 
The story of transport supremacy did not end well for Carthage. In the First Punic War, fought a scant few years after the common war against the Greeks, the Romans raised a substantial navy and challenged Carthage’s dominance on the seas. Defeat in that war, combined with the defeats in the Second and Third Punic wars, would spell the end of Carthage’s empire. While the Carthaginians ushered in their doom by providing transport supremacy to their eventual conquerors, the United States is in no such risk of the same, allowing it to leverage the policy without stoking an existential threat to its existence.
 
The future looks bright for those with transport supremacy.
 
Matthew Merighi is a civilian employee with the United States Air Force. His views do not reflect those of the United States Government, Department of Defense, or Air Force.
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Sea Control 45 – West Africa Naval Development

seacontrol2This week, we discuss naval development in West Africa with Dirk Steffen of Risk Intelligence and Paul Pryce of the NATO Council of Canada, We cover the challenges of developing state maritime security apparatus, particularly procurement, capabilities & training, as well as the rising challenges of private demand for security vs. public supply that can cause corruption, confusion, as well as innovation.

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West African Naval Development

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Sea Control 44: Ukraine Crisis (Re-Post)

seacontrolemblemIn light of the MH17 disaster in Eastern Ukraine, we re-air Sea Control 25: The Crimean Crisis (with three CIMSEC writers: Dave Blair, Viribus Unitis, and Robert Rasmussen).  As we discuss this disaster, how it will shape the continuing conflict, and how those involved should proceed – we must keep ourselves honest. With the months of pontification on Ukraine – there are lessons we can learn from how wrong, or right, those past selves were. This podcast covers Russian intentions, Ukranian governance, passive resistance, Maidan, and the EU/NATO.

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 44: Ukraine Crisis (Re-Post)

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